The Free State’s capital is a spunky, progressive university town that doubles as South Africa’s judicial capital. Due to being business focused city, rates in the area can sometimes get pricey, but there are plenty of ways to save money. Here are 15 ways to experience Bloemfontein on a budget.
1. Inspiration for Mordor?
JRR Tolkien, author of Lord of the Rings, was born in Bloemfontein in 1892. Although he moved to England when he was five, his recollection of the Bloemfontein district as “hot, dry and barren” is considered a sign by Bloem’s residents that his years here inspired him to create the legendary kingdom of Mordor.
2. All about Tolkien
If you’re interested in learning more about Tolkien, head over to the Hobbit Boutique Hotel, which is home to the local Tolkien literary society and located just a block east of the 2nd Street restaurant district. They can direct you towards the house where Tolkien was born, the cathedral he was baptized in, and to the grave where his father is buried.
3. City of Roses
Known as the “City of Roses,” Bloemfontein is home to 4,000 rose bushes in one park, and the city can smell delightful when the plants bloom — and sniffing is totally free!
4. Manguang township
Outside of downtown, Manguang is a sprawling township where South Africa’s ANC party was born. Today, you can experience life, and learn some important history on a guided tour. The tours visit culturally important sites like the Mapikela House, now a national monument, where Thomas Mapikela, a founding father of the ANC, once resided. Tours aren’t free, but they are affordable.
5. Township vibes
If you are interested in township nightlife, join a guided evening tour to the Manguang township’s buzzing shebeen (unlicensed bars) scene where you can sample home-brews and dance to the notes of an enthusiastic jazz quartet. Again, tours aren’t free, but they are affordable.
6. Oliewenhuis Art Museum
In the Waverly neighborhood, less than a 10-minute drive north of the CBD, you’ll find one of South Africa’s most striking art galleries, the Oliewenhuis Art Museum. In an exquisite 1935 mansion, it has a strong South African and contemporary art collection. Admission is free.
7. Cheap eats
Second Ave, just north of the Waterfront is the main eating street, and home to plenty of independent restaurants and bars that serve a range of food from around the globe, including entrees geared towards poor college students. Look for nightly specials.
8. Cheap drinks
As a university town, Bloemfontein has a good range of places to drink, party and, increasingly, listen to live music. The corners of Second Ave and Kellner St, and Zastron St and Nelson Mandela Ave bustle with party people in the evening. Visit during happy hour for the cheapest drinks.
9. Mystic Boer
Bloem’s most popular long-standing pub and live music venue provides an eccentric twist to Afrikaner culture — check out the psychedelic pictures of long-bearded Boers on the walls. One “big” band plays per month, and there are regular gigs by unsigned rock and hip-hop acts. Go during happy hour for specials.
10. National Women’s Memorial
Commemorating the 26,000 women and children who died in British concentration camps during the 1899-1902 Anglo-Boer War, the National Women’s Memorial is the creation of well-known South African sculptor Anton von Wouw. The sandstone obelisk depicts a bearded Afrikaner setting off on his pony to fight the British, bidding a last farewell to his wife and baby, who are to perish in one of the camps. It’s a powerful image and one still buried in the psyche of many Afrikaners.
11. Anglo Boer War Museum
It isn’t completely free, but at less than a buck, admission to the Anglo Boer War Museum is pretty affordable. Located in front of the National Women’s Memorial, it has some interesting displays, including photos from concentrations camps set up not only in South Africa, but also in Bermuda, India and Portugal.
12. Franklin Game Reserve
At the top of NavalHill, the Franklin Game Reserve is home to small game (no big cats) and walking is permitted. Admission is free.
13. Orchid House
Near the Franklin Game Reserve, the Orchid House also has free admission and is a glass house with a beautiful flower collection. Have a picnic in the park out front.
14. Kings Park
Opened by the Prince of Wales in 1925, Kings Park is the city’s largest green open space and home to more than 4,000 rose trees. It makes for a colorful and deliciously fragrant place for a stroll.
15. Reyneke Caravan Park
Bloemfontein doesn’t have a lot of budget lodging, but this campground with some basic rooms and chalets that sleep up to four is a decent bet. It is located just two kilometers out of town and has a swimming pool, a trampoline and a basketball court.